Welcome to my newest series, The Wanderland Guide to Travel Planning. This is the final post in a six-part series! Many thanks to Capital One for sponsoring this post.
Part Six // Packing, Paperwork and Other Practicalities
You’re pretty much all set. Destination picked. Flight booked. Itinerary set, accommodation settled, and activities and entertainment planned. All that’s left is to pack up and go! But first, check on a few of these practicalities and make sure you’re ready for takeoff.
For longer trips — and ever shorter ones — I often start packing quite early so that I can plan accordingly if I need a special piece of gear (going trekking? Might need to bring replacement mouthpieces for my Camelbak. Going on a rainforest safari? Might want to consider upgrading my zoom lens.)
My first step is typically to select what type and size of bag I’m going to be using, based on my destination and length of my trip. Then, I set aside an area where I can start laying out what I want to pack well ahead of time and do a little editing every day until take off. If it’s a long trip and I’ll be packing a lot, I might do one section at a time so I don’t get overwhelmed – clothes, toiletries, electronics, etc. If it’s a shorter trip, I might try to roughly plan out outfits for each day based on my activities so that I don’t waste space on frivolous times. Usually I double-check myself with a check list to make sure I’m not forgetting something small but essential.
Read more packing posts and lists here.
Paperwork and Practicalities
• Visas: If you’re traveling internationally, US citizens can check the State Department list for visa requirements, while the website Do I Need A Visa For? will give you a quick glance no matter where you hail from. Note that these websites are geared towards those going on shorter trips and thus don’t often go into the details of options available for longer stays — you’ll probably have to go digging a bit for that (for example, both websites briefly explain that visas aren’t necessary for US citizens staying 30 days or less in Thailand, but don’t mention that visas for longer stays are available and can be relatively easy to obtain.) Visas can be confusing but in general as a US citizen I am very grateful for how little red tape stands in my way while traipsing around the world. (Brazil, my next big trip, is turning out to be a major exception.)
If you’re not super web savvy (or the country you want to go to has an embassy website that makes your eyes bleed), check if your credit card has a Pre-Trip Assistance service.
• One-Way Tickets: I touched on this in my guide to booking flights, but some countries will require proof of exit in order to enter. If you’re planning to prance in on a one-way ticket, read this first.
• Vaccines: If I’m heading to a new region of the world, I’ll check guidebooks and the CDC website for a general idea of recommended vaccines and then call my doctor to get her opinion on which I actually need. The big vaccine that many travelers (especially those heading to Africa or Latin America) will wrestle with is yellow fever, as there are several countries that require you to show vaccination if you’ve traveled to other high-risk countries (for example, you must show proof of vaccination in order to enter Brazil from, say, Peru). Plus, you know, there’s no cure — and it’s fatal.
Health insurance rarely covers travel-specific vaccines. If you’re stateside, you can find clinics offering the yellow fever jab on the CDC’s Yellow Fever directory. The priciest option (for all vaccines) will be to go to a private travel clinic, where a yellow fever vaccine will set you back about $300. A cheaper alternative is to call your local County Health Department — I paid $130 for mine in Albany, New York (I did have to get a prescription from my general practitioner first, but I was able to do so over the phone.) The bargain option would have been to do it abroad — you can safely and comfortably get yellow fever and other important travel vaccinations in cities like Lima and Bangkok for around $30-40. Just look up international hospitals and clinics in your arrival city and shoot them an email (I’ve found the hospitals and clinics in Thailand respond to emails within hours!), and make sure the incubation period will have passed before you head into high-risk areas.
• Health and Health Insurance: I am currently on the hunt for a US health plan that will cover me internationally, or a travel plan that will fill in the gaps. Suggestions are welcome! In the meantime I will be paying out of pocket for care here in Thailand, which is incredibly affordable and comprehensive. Before I rolled off my health insurance, I did final check ups for my teeth and eyes, and had a new Implanon birth control implant put in (in my opinion, the absolute best choice for women road warriors).
I do pay for DAN diver accident insurance, which starts at $30 per year and is a must for scuba enthusiasts (standard health insurance and travel insurances do not cover decompression chamber visits, which could both save your life and wipe your savings in a matter of hours.)
• Travel Insurance: There are a dizzying number of options out there for travel-specific insurance. Personally, I don’t use any of them. Instead, I insure my electronics on my parent’s homeowner’s insurance for a reasonable annual fee (I highly recommend going this route if possible as the coverage is more comprehensive and the rate generally lower than travel-specific insurance) and rely on benefits provided by my credit card.
Most credit card holders are not aware of all the benefits they receive– for example, as a Capital One Venture cardholder, I’m entitled to Visa Signature security and convenience benefits, which include both complementary auto rental insurance and insurance on checked and carry-on baggage, among other things.
Staying Healthy on the Road
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and having a strong body is the best defense! I covered finding healthy food and gyms in a previous post. But here are a few extra ways to avoid illness and injury on the road.
• Avoiding food borne illness: Many travelers deny themselves the joy of street food out of concerns over food-borne illness. That’s a shame! Check out my friend Jodi’s guide to eating street food safely.
I’m frequently asked if I avoid ice and/or fresh fruit and vegetables due to concerns over tap water. Nope. For those on short international trips I can understand wanting to avoid any risk of getting sick, but for long term travelers I think it’s best to just slowly introduce that local bacteria into your system and enjoy all the local produce you can get your hands on! I drink tap water from a Clearly Filtered bottle everywhere I go.
• Avoiding mosquito borne illness: Due to the extended time I spend malaria zones each year and the detrimental side effects and risks of long-term use, thus far I have chosen to avoid all preventative malarial drugs and focus instead on preventing mosquito bites in high-risk areas. Again, I can see how the choice might be different for a short-term traveler less concerned over the long-term risks of those drugs.
Personally, I simply wear bug spray when necessary (bring your own from home if you want to use natural varieties or you’re concerned over DEET levels – it’s pretty unregulated in much of the world).
• Preventing injury: For the most part, this is just luck. But be very careful when renting motorbikes – in Southeast Asia, it’s a popular way to get from point A to point B. It’s also the leading cause of death among travelers. Don’t let statistics alone stop you from renting one, but be realistic about if you’re comfortable driving on poor roads, in heavy traffic and up steep hills.
• If you do get ill or injured: Did you know that your credit card may offer travel and emergency assistance services? With my Capital One Venture, I have access to a Benefit Administrator who can connect me with local emergency and assistance resources twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
Managing Money on the Road
I’ve saved thousands of dollars over the years by using great banking products and sticking to a well-researched system.
• Avoid foreign transaction fees – and build points: I signed up for my Venture Card by Capital One in 2009 in anticipation of my first big trip, and it’s been my primary credit card ever since. First off, it has zero transaction fees – an absolute must for me. Second, it offers double miles on every purchase – miles that are redeemable on any travel related expense, a flexibility that airline-based cards and programs just can’t compete with. In my first year as a cardholder, I snagged a free flight to Hawaii worth $560. These days, I make everything from Uber rides to hotel rooms disappear from my bill with the click of a button.
• Research your card benefits carefully: Recently, I discovered that I’m eligible to pretty top-notch benefits at some of the world’s best hotels – perks like 3pm checkout, automatic upgrades, free wifi, $25 in dining credit, and more — simply by holding a Venture Card by Capital One. I’m kicking myself for not knowing about it sooner – I spotted several hotels I’ve stayed in over the last year on their roster.
• Avoid ATM fees: For point building purposes, it is best to put as many purchases as possible on credit cards. However, in some destinations around the world that’s easier said than done. Use ATMS rather than currency exchanges to get cash when needed (they have far better rates) and find a debit card that refunds ATM fees. Then, carry small amount of cash (my preference, in case of theft or scatterbrain) and visit the ATM often without fear of racking up huge fees.
• Have backups: Personally, I’ve found customer service at the credit cards I love and have stuck with, like Capital One, to be top notch – they’ll do their darndest to get you a new card and emergency cash wherever you may be in the shortest amount of time possible should yours become lost or stolen, or should you lose access to one of your accounts. (I had to call them just this week and had the sweetest conversation with Tami in Tampa.) But don’t get stranded. Carry your primary credit card and debit card in one place, and stash a backup of each somewhere completely different in your luggage. Better safe than sorry!
• Track your spending: I use online banking tools to monitor my accounts and Trail Wallet to track my daily spending. Splitwise is another great app for when you’re traveling as a couple or group. Trail Wallet let’s me set a daily budget for myself, make my own categories, and make entries in both a home and local and currency. Taking note of every sol I spend will not only help me write posts about my daily budget like I did for Honduras and the Philippines, but also help keep realize when I’m splurging too much on smoothies or when I have wiggle room in my budget for the VIP bus seats.
Read more posts on budgeting here.
Ready for takeoff yet? I truly hope you enjoyed this series. Let me know if I missed any of your favorite travel planning tips in the comments. Bon voyage!